At the end of last year, Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona sold at auction for $5.4 million. It handsomely beat Steve McQueen’s Heuer Monaco, also being sold that day, which went for a paltry $2.2 million.
Yes, watch prices can reach ludicrous numbers, especially when famous names are attached to their provenance. And a quality ‘luxury’ mechanical watch will set you back thousands rather than hundreds.
But those who think that a fine timepiece, mechanical or quartz, cannot be had for under a mere £500 are very much mistaken. Some in our comprehensive edit here don’t even bother the £200 mark.
In short, you have little or no excuse not to start your own watch collection right now even on the most modest of budgets.
You might also be interested in the WIRED Recommends guides to the best smartwatches and which Apple Watch to buy.
Merci LMM-01 Field Watch
Typically, a lifestyle brand’s foray into watches wouldn’t be cause for much excitement (French label Merci is better known for its subdued, classy homeware), but when the design is such a spot-on homage to classic military styles, executed with evident care, it gets our attention. The LMM-01 measures 38mm across, comes on a black NATO fabric strap, and is powered by a Seiko quartz movement. This particular model takes its look directly from WW2-era ‘field’ watches prized for their no-nonsense legibility and simple, robust case shape.
Price: €250 | Merci
New for 2021, Tissot’s PRX will have owners of watches 10 or 20 times the price doing a double-take: with its elegant steel bracelet that flows seamlessly into the sloping sides of the 40mm case it echoes famous designs from the likes of Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin as well as recent hits in the same vein (Zenith’s Defy range comes to mind). The polished bezel and bevelled case edges catch the light nicely, as do the applied, faceted hour markers. Under the dial is an ETA quartz movement but a version equipped with the brand’s Powermatic 80 automatic calibre is expected to land by summer 2021.
Price: £295 | Tissot | Ernest Jones
Skagen Falster 3
Smartwatches that remember to be smart in the aesthetic as well as the technological sense are rare at this price level, but Skagen provides in the form of the Falster 3, a 42mm stainless steel watch running Google’s Wear OS. We’d opt for the all-black case with the mesh bracelet, but there are options for everyone including leather and silicone rubber. The usual suite of health-tracking and lifestyle functionality is on hand, with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS connections. Bolstering the 32mm diameter touchscreen are two configurable push-buttons that ape traditional watch designs. Skagen promises a 24hr battery life and handily, splash-proof water resistance.
Price: £279 | Amazon | Skagen | Watch Shop
Junghans Form C Chronograph
Pushing close to the top of the £500 budget gets you this quartz-powered chronograph from storied watchmaker Junghans, once one of the largest manufacturers in the world. The Form collection majors on crisp, clean, geometric lines – witness the recessed square motif around the edge of the dial, the minimal typography and the classic ‘pump’ shaped chronograph pushers. The Form C combines the sporty functionality of a chronograph (in this case, capable of measuring up to 12 hours of elapsed time) with the slender, bezel-free lines of a dressier watch, making it a versatile all-rounder.
Price: £479 | Watch Shop | Amazon | Jura Watches
Bamford London Mayfair
Bamford Watch Department’s ethos is to put a smile on your face, whether you’re taking delivery of a fully customised bespoke design or shopping from its more affordable Mayfair collection. Notable for the asymmetric case silhouette and myriad colour choices, the 40mm quartz watch is usually but not exclusively cased in Bamford’s signature black – a stainless steel case finished with a military-grade titanium coating. In addition to the array of off-the-shelf options, BWD also offers an online customiser letting you choose dial colours, strap styles, case finishes and a personalised engraving.
Price: £425 | Bamford London
Paulin Commuter Automatic
Not heard of Paulin? The Glasgow-based brand founded by three sisters is a welcome tonic to the often-derivative world of affordable watch designs. Where else will you find a watch under £400 whose designers went to the effort of designing their own typeface for the numerals? The aesthetic draws on Bauhaus, Scandinavian and industrial design influences, brought together with a lightness of touch and pops of bright colour that keep it all fresh. The watches boast scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, a range of high-end leather choices for straps, and Miyota automatic movements.
Price: £395 | Paulin Watches | Trouva
Rotate North Atlantic
Yes, there is something distinctly Submariner-like about the Rotate North Atlantic – but if we held that against all dive watches with familiar details, we’d rule ourselves out of a lot of worthwhile value-friendly options. The screw-down crown, toothed bezel and ‘aged white’ luminous hour markers are a admittedly close to one of the greatest watch designs of all time, but look at is this way: you are getting a handsome watch for a fraction of Rolex prices. And there are also more than a few touches here that make Rotate North interesting in its own right, such as the sustainably sourced vegan rubber strap, which comes with half-punched holes, so you can pick the one that fits you and leave the rest unbroken. Clean and clever.
Price: £285 | Rotate North | Verishop
Casio G-Shock Utility Colour 800UC-3ER
This military green G-Shock is packed to the gunwales with tech. The onboard three-axis accelerometer tracks your step counts with storage for 200 lap records, five workout intensity levels and a multi-timer with 20 combinations. It syncs to your phone via Bluetooth, has an ‘airplane’ mode, and boasts a world timer and water resistance down to 200m to round out the feature set. All for just a smidge less than £100.
Price: £100 | G-Shock | Watch Shop
This white and powder-blue Mondaine comes in two sizes – a 32mm case aimed at women and a larger faced, chunkier, slightly more expensive 41mm model aimed at men. Of note is the fact that the case on the 30m water-resistant Essence is made from a bio-plastic derived from castor oil (combined with regular plastic and glass powder for strength), while the strap is lined with cork.
Price: £169 | Mondaine | John Lewis | Beaverbooks
Seiko 5 Sports Suits
Seiko’s 5 Sports range is made up of 27 mechanical watches, all equipped with the brand’s Calibre 4R36 movement. Terrific value across the range, then, so it’s worth having a browse across the Street, Sense and Specialist ranges. But WIRED’s pick is this ‘Suits’ style. We very much taken with the aesthetic, from the arrow-shaped minute hands and Milanese watch bracelet to the rotating bezel.
Price: £280 | First Class Watches
Casio G-Shock Classic
A thoroughly rugged wear, this take on the Hyper Complex G Shock features oversized buttons with an anti-slip surface, 200m waterproofing and a face that illuminates when you tilt your wrist towards you. One for pro diving and just about everything else you can throw at it thanks to the sporty strap, 100-lap memory and don’t forget the 1/1000-second stopwatch.
Price: £140 | G-Shock | Amazon | Watch Shop
Bulova Lunar Pilot Chronograph
Buzz Aldrin may have left his Bulova Accutron Timer in the Sea of Tranquility, but we advise you take a little more care over this Apollo 11-inspired Lunar Pilot Chronograph. It’s a reissue featuring Bulova’s new ultra-high-frequency 262kHz quartz movement alongside a curved sapphire crystal dial and a black, leather, NATO-style strap. Zero-atmosphere exposure may not be on the cards, but you do get water resistance to 50m.
Price: £449 | Amazon | Beaverbrooks
Hamilton Khaki Field Automatic
An homage to the Hamilton military watches of the 1960s, and a rather affordable one at that, the Khaki Field Automatic features its ‘Earth’ coloured PVD coating on a 38mm bead-blasted stainless steel case. With a tanned leather NATO strap and powered by a hand-wound movement with 80 hours of power reserve.
Price: £445 | Hamilton Watch
Timex Q Reissue 38mm
With a modern quartz movement, this update to the 1979 Timex Q otherwise keeps the original “Q” logo, alongside a 38mm case size, vintage stainless-steel bracelet and faithful battery hatch. With its classy retro styling and 50m water resistance – good enough for everyday life, but not something you’d necessarily go diving with – it’s exceedingly good value at £160.
Price: £159 | Timex
Mondaine Helvetica 1 Hybrid Smartwatch
Another stylish smartwatch, Mondaine’s Helvetica 1 is a hybrid so there’s no touchscreen here. Instead the second (grey) dial of this 40mm Swiss-made watch can be set to display activity and sleep tracking, and, when it’s connected to your iPhone or Android phone via Bluetooth, it can be also set to buzz gently when you get a new text or email.
Price: £349 | Mondaine
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